What is happening with Queenscliff Beach? For those who enjoy this sandy retreat beside the rock pool at the northern end of Manly Beach, most of it no longer exists. A combination of surging waves, intense rains, and floodwaters from Manly Lagoon diluted almost all the beach sand and washed it out into the Pacific Ocean.
In its place are exposed rocks coursed by a tidal river, treacherous to wade across when the seawater advances and recedes.
Queenscliff is not the only beach impacted by the intense storms that characterised the summer of 2021-22, which brought peak tides alarmingly close to houses and seafront promenades. Shorelines all the way along the NSW coast were affected, with many other beaches surrendering their golden sand to hungry waves.
The storms are attributable to the ‘La Niña’ weather phenomenon that affects Australia’s eastern seaboard every five to seven years. The complex event, the cold phase of the broader El Niño Southern Oscillation, delivers a succession of East Coast Lows bringing high winds and heavy rains, with tidal surges frequently rupturing the shoreline.
Northern Beaches Council CEO, Ray Brownlee, told Manly Observer, “Sydney has recorded its annual average rainfall in just over three months. Unsurprisingly, this has impacted our local waterways and beaches.
“We are working closely with Sydney Water to reduce pollution and improve water quality in our lagoons. We are monitoring and responding to erosion on our beaches, with teams out assessing damage caused by these unprecedented weather events.”
‘Flushing’ the lagoon?
Across social media community webpages, such as Facebook, numerous people have asked whether Northern Beaches Council are postponing resurrecting Queenscliff Beach to allow the new tidal river to flush out sewage and pollution in Manly Lagoon.
Queenscliff resident David Redstone told Manly Observer that by leaving the tidal channel open and not returning the sand, pollution and contaminants are being carried into Manly Bay and around to Shelly Beach on the tide.
“The NSW Government’s ocean Beachwatch website shows Sydney’s Northern Beaches are relatively clean most days,” he said. “Except Queenscliff, because Council are allowing pollution to flow out from Manly Lagoon into the ocean.
“It looks much worse at high tide, when the water is really brown. It seems to me the obvious thing to do is close off the lagoon and return the beach to how it was before the floods washed it away.”
A Council spokesperson told Manly Observer, “The NSW Government’s Beachwatch program undertakes routine water quality monitoring at Queenscliff Beach. This is updated daily. Based on this information, Council closes the beach to swimming when required.”
However, the Council insists its own water purity test results don’t indicate Manly Lagoon is any more polluted than usual in the aftermath of heavy rains.
A Council spokesperson said, “we are working with Sydney Water to reduce sewer overflows in the catchment, actively monitoring building sites to reduce sediment runoff, street sweeping to reduce organics, cleaning water quality control devices and using pollution traps.
“Council also undertakes water quality monitoring for ecological health between October and April in all four lagoons including Manly Lagoon. These results show Manly Lagoon water quality has remained stable over the last 10 years and due to the surrounding built up areas, is influenced by stormwater during wet weather events.”
More sand to rebuild Queenscliff Beach?
In recent years, the Collaroy-Narrabeen beach has made national headlines as waves washed away the foreshore and damaged seafront properties. At 2.6km in length, and Sydney’s second-longest beach (after Cronulla at 4.8km), the Collaroy-Narrabeen strip is also identified as the NSW beach “most at-risk from erosion.”
Northern Beaches Council confirmed this on their website.
“Collaroy-Narrabeen Beach is the beach most vulnerable to erosion from coastal storms on the Northern Beaches. It’s ranked Australia’s third most at risk area from coastal processes.”
And while Coastal Zone Management Plans have been implemented to protect Sydney’s vulnerable Collaroy-Narrabeen shoreline from tidal surges, including sand replenishment and construction of a 7m high, 1.3km long seawall, Queenscliff appears to have been left to the elements.
During frequent trips to the affected area, Manly Observer has spoken to numerous Queenscliff residents and regular beach users who enquired whether Council can fund the delivery of fresh sand to resurrect Queenscliff Beach.
Furthermore, can new measures, such as groynes and other hydraulic barriers, be installed to prevent future coastal erosion?
Northern Beaches Council confirmed they are monitoring the situation at Queenscliff Beach and Manly Lagoon entrance.
However, a Council spokesperson told Manly Observer its approach is “to allow for the beach to naturally accumulate, with the assistance of sand scraping by machinery, once adequate sand has returned to the beach.
“Given the volume of sand required and the significant cost this would impose, there are no plans to purchase sand.”
So, perhaps Queenscliff Beach should be renamed Queenscliff River for the foreseeable future, until the shifting tides return the stolen sand.
The sea channel to Manly Lagoon through the former Queenscliff Beach. Video: Alec Smart